Looking back 50 years later: Grand Rapids riots of 1967

GR Riots of 1967: Where are we now?

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Fifty years ago Tuesday, July 25 racial tensions and uprisings boiling across the country, spread to Grand Rapids. There were riots in the streets, fires across the city and violent confrontations between African Americans and police.

Nathaniel Moody remembers it all.

"My mother and I and my brother lived upstairs, and my aunt and her children lived downstairs." Pastor Moody said. "I lived right next door to what was called the United Methodist Community House."

He knows the history.

"In 1967, we were called Negroes," Moody said.

As a 12-year-old, he couldn't understand what was going on.

"I'm scared. I'm afraid, because I don't understand what's going on," Moody said. "We had no idea that racism existed, we just knew something was wrong. You go to play with somebody and they'll stop and look at you like you're not supposed to be playing with us."

Moody said banks wouldn't give loans to African Americans, so many lived within the same area.

"If you did and you moved into different areas where there were whites, most of the whites would move out of the community because they saw African Americans as, something, I'll be honest, not human to them," Moody said.

That anger continued.

"You seem to find yourself in a situation where anger takes its toll," Moody said.

Many in the community eventually snapped.

"I saw it here when the first building was set on fire over on Division Street," Moody said.

That's when then 12-year-old Moody knew this was serious.

"As kids we saw some of our neighbors, that were in their 19's and 20's, running, hollering 'black power,'" Moody said."I'm sitting on the porch and state troopers pull out, and they had their guns out and they told us to go into the house. It's like 6:00 in the evening, it's summer time, and I'm saying 'why do we have to go in the house?' They're telling us to go in the house or we're going to be arrested."

Fifty years ago, he said all it took was for Detroit to erupt before Grand Rapids followed suit -- but he sees today's world a little differently. 

"When you think about it, how far have we really come? We're not too far from having a riot today," Moody said.
"We have not learned how to see each other as human beings."

Moody remembers the rioting lasting about three days. He said things started to settle down when James Brown held a concert in Grand Rapids. He believes Brown was asked to perform to help ease the tension.

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